Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 16


KNOX AND QUEEN MARY (continued): 1563-1564


The new year, 1563, found Knox purging the Kirk from that fallen brother, Paul Methuen. This preacher had borne the burden and heat of the day in 1557-58, erecting, as we have seen, the first "reformed" Kirk, that of the Holy Virgin, in Dundee, and suffering some inconvenience, if no great danger, from the clergy of the religion whose sacred things he overthrew. He does not appear to have been one of the more furious of the new apostles. Contrasted with John Brabner, "a vehement man inculcating the law and pain thereof," Paul is described as "a milder man, preaching the evangel of grace and remission of sins in the blood of Christ." {224a}

Paul was at this time minister of Jedburgh. He had "an ancient matron" to wife, recommended, perhaps, by her property, and she left him for two months with a servant maid. Paul fell, but behaved not ill to the mother of his child, sending her "money and clothes at various times." Knox tried the case at Jedburgh; Paul was excommunicated, and fled the realm, sinking so low, it seems, as to take orders in the Church of England. Later he returned--probably he was now penniless--"and prostrated himself before the whole brethren with weeping and howling." He was put to such shameful and continued acts of public penance up and down the country that any spirit which he had left awoke in him, and the Kirk knew him no more. Thus "the world might see what difference there is between darkness and light." {225a}

Knox presently had to record a scandal in a higher place, the capture and execution of the French minor poet, Chastelard, who, armed with sword and dagger, hid under the Queen's bed in Holyrood; and invaded her room with great insolence at Burntisland as she was on her way to St. Andrews. There he was tried, condemned, and executed in the market-place. It seems fairly certain that Chastelard, who had joined the Queen with despatches during the expedition against Huntly, was a Huguenot. The Catholic version, and Lethington's version, of his adventure was that some intriguing Huguenot lady had set him on to sully Queen Mary's character; other tales ran that he was to assassinate her, as part of a great Protestant conspiracy. {225b}

Randolph, who knew as much as any one, thought the Queen far too familiar with the poet, but did not deem that her virtue was in fault. {225c} Knox dilates on Mary's familiarities, kisses given in a vulgar dance, dear to the French society of the period, and concludes that the fatuous poet "lacked his head, that his tongue should not utter the secrets of our Queen." {225d}

There had been a bad harvest, and a dearth, because the Queen's luxury "provoked God" (who is represented as very irritable) "to strike the staff of bread," and to "give His malediction upon the fruits of the earth. But oh, alas, who looked, or yet looks, to the very cause of all our calamities!" {226a}

Some savage peoples are said to sacrifice their kings when the weather is unpropitious. Knox's theology was of the same kind. The preachers, says Randolph (February 28), "pray daily . . . that God will either turn the Queen's heart or grant her short life. Of what charity or spirit this proceeds, I leave to be discussed by great divines." {226b} The prayers sound like encouragement to Jehus.

At this date Ruthven was placed, "by Lethington's means only," on the Privy Council. Moray especially hated Ruthven "for his sorcery"; the superstitious Moray affected the Queen with this ill opinion of one of the elect--in the affair of Riccio's murder so useful to the cause of Knox. "There is not an unworthier in Scotland" than Ruthven, writes Randolph. {226c} Meanwhile Lethington was in England to negotiate for peace in France; if he could, to keep an eye on Mary's chances for the succession, and (says Knox) to obtain leave for Lennox, the chief of the Stuarts and the deadly foe of the Hamiltons, to visit Scotland, whence, in the time of Henry VIII., he had been driven as a traitor. But Lethington was at that time confuting Lennox's argument that the Hamilton chief, Chatelherault, was illegitimate. Knox is not positive, he only reports rumours. {226d} Lethington's serious business was to negotiate a marriage for the Queen.

Despite the recent threats of death against priests who celebrated Mass, the Archbishop Hamilton and Knox's opponent, the Abbot of Crossraguel, with many others, did so at Easter. The Ayrshire brethren "determined to put to their own hands," captured some priests, and threatened others with "the punishment that God has appointed to idolaters by His law." {227a} The Queen commanded Knox to meet her at Lochleven in mid-April--Lochleven, where she was later to be a prisoner. In that state lay the priests of her religion, who had been ministering to the people, "some in secret houses, some in barns, some in woods and hills," writes Randolph, "all are in prison." {227b}

Mary, for two hours before supper, implored Knox to mediate with the western fanatics. He replied, that if princes would not use the sword against idolaters, there was the leading case of Samuel's slaughter of Agag; and he adduced another biblical instance, of a nature not usually cited before young ladies. He was on safer ground in quoting the Scots law as it stood. Judges within their bounds were to seek out and punish "mass-mongers"--that was his courteous term.

The Queen, rather hurt, went off to supper, but next morning did her best to make friends with Knox over other matters. She complained of Ruthven, who had given her a ring for some magical purpose, later explained by Ruthven, who seems to have despised the superstition of his age. The Queen, says Ruthven, was afraid of poison; he gave her the ring, saying that it acted as an antidote. Moray was at Lochleven with the Queen, and Moray believed, or pretended to believe, in Ruthven's "sossery," as Randolph spells "sorcery." She, rather putting herself at our Reformer's mercy, complained that Lethington alone placed Ruthven in the Privy Council.

"That man is absent," said Knox, "and therefore I will speak nothing on that behalf." Mary then warned him against "the man who was at time most familiar with the said John, in his house and at table," the despicable Bishop of Galloway, and Knox later found out that the warning was wise. Lastly, she asked him to reconcile the Earl and Countess of Argyll--"do this much for my sake"; and she promised to summon the offending priests who had done their duty. {228a}

Knox, with his usual tact, wrote to Argyll thus: "Your behaviour toward your wife is very offensive unto many godly." He added that, if all that was said of Argyll was true, and if he did not look out, he would be damned.

"This bill was not well accepted of the said Earl," but, like the rest of them, he went on truckling to Knox, "most familiar with the said John." {228b}

Nearly fifty priests were tried, but no one was hanged. They were put in ward; "the like of this was never heard within the realm," said pleased Protestants, not "smelling the craft." Neither the Queen nor her Council had the slightest desire to put priests to death. Six other priests "as wicked as" the Archbishop were imprisoned, and the Abbot of Crossraguel was put to the horn in his absence, just as the preachers had been. The Catholic clergy "know not where to hide their heads," says Randolph. Many fled to the more tender mercies of England; "it will be the common refuge of papists that cannot live here . . ." {228c} The tassels on the trains of the ladies, it was declared by the preachers, "would provoke God's vengeance . . . against the whole realm . . " {229a}

The state of things led to a breach between Knox and Moray, which lasted till the Earl found him likely to be useful, some eighteen months later.

The Reformer relieved his mind in the pulpit at the end of May or early in June, rebuking backsliders, and denouncing the Queen's rumoured marriage with any infidel, "and all Papists are infidels." Papists and Protestants were both offended. There was a scene with Mary, in which she wept profusely, an infirmity of hers; we constantly hear of her weeping in public. She wished the Lords of the Articles to see whether Knox's "manner of speaking" was not punishable, but nothing could be done. Elizabeth would have found out a way. {229b}

The fact that while Knox was conducting himself thus, nobody ventured to put a dirk or a bullet into him--despite the obvious strength of the temptation in many quarters--proves that he was by far the most potent human being in Scotland. Darnley, Moray, Lennox were all assassinated, when their day came, though the feeblest of the three, Darnley, had a powerful clan to take up his feud. We cannot suppose that any moral considerations prevented the many people whom Knox had offended from doing unto him as the Elect did to Riccio. Manifestly, nobody had the courage. No clan was so strong as the warlike brethren who would have avenged the Reformer, and who probably would have been backed by Elizabeth.

Again, though he was estranged from Moray, that leader was also, in some degree, estranged from Lethington, who did not allow him to know the details of his intrigues, in France and England, for the Queen's marriage. The marriage question was certain to reunite Moray and Knox. When Knox told Mary that, as "a subject of this realm," he had a right to oppose her marriage with any infidel, he spoke the modern constitutional truth. For Mary to wed a Royal Catholic would certainly have meant peril for Protestantism, war with England, and a tragic end. But what Protestant could she marry? If a Scot, he would not long have escaped the daggers of the Hamiltons; indeed, all the nobles would have borne the fiercest jealousy against such an one as, say, Glencairn, who, we learn, could say anything to Mary without offence. She admired a strong brave man, and Glencairn, though an opponent, was gallant and resolute. England chose only to offer the infamous and treacherous Leicester, whose character was ruined by the mysterious death of his wife (Amy Robsart), and who had offered to sell England and himself to idolatrous Spain. Mary's only faint chance of safety lay in perpetual widowhood, or in marrying Knox, by far the most powerful of her subjects, and the best able to protect her and himself.

This idea does not seem to have been entertained by the subtle brain of Lethington. Between February and May 1563, the Cardinal of Lorraine had reopened an old negotiation for wedding the Queen to the Archduke, and Mary had given an evasive reply; she must consult Parliament. In March, with the Spanish Ambassador in London, Lethington had proposed for Don Carlos. Philip II., as usual, wavered, consented (in August), considered, and reconsidered. Lethington, in France, had told the Queen- Mother that the Spanish plan was only intended to wring concessions from Elizabeth; and, on his return to England, had persuaded the Spanish Ambassador that Charles IX. was anxious to succeed to his brother's widow. This moved Philip to be favourable to the Don Carlos marriage, but he waited; there was no sign from France, and Philip withdrew, wavering so much that both the Austrian and Spanish matches became impossible. On October 6, Knox, who suspected more than he knew, told Cecil that out of twelve Privy Councillors, nine would consent to a Catholic marriage. The only hope was in Moray, and Knox "daily thirsted" for death. {231a} He appealed to Leicester (about whose relations with Elizabeth he was, of course, informed) as to a man who "may greatly advance the purity of religion." {231b}

These letters to Cecil and Leicester are deeply pious in tone, and reveal a cruel anxiety. On June 20, three weeks after Knox's famous sermon, Lethington told de Quadra, the Spanish Ambassador, that Elizabeth threatened to be Mary's enemy if she married Don Carlos or any of the house of Austria. {231c} On August 26, 1563, Randolph received instructions from Elizabeth, in which the tone of menace was unconcealed. Elizabeth would offer an English noble: "we and our country cannot think any mighty prince a meet husband for her." {231d}

Knox was now engaged in a contest wherein he was triumphant; an affair which, in later years, was to have sequels of high importance. During the summer vacation of 1563, while Mary was moving about the country, Catholics in Edinburgh habitually attended at Mass in her chapel. This was contrary to the arrangement which permitted no Mass in the whole realm, except that of the Queen, when her priests were not terrorised. The godly brawled in the Chapel Royal, and two of them were arrested, two very dear brethren, named Cranstoun and Armstrong; they were to be tried on October 24. Knox had a kind of Dictator's commission from the Congregation, "to see that the Kirk took no harm," and to the Congregation he appealed by letter. The accused brethren had only "noted what persons repaired to the Mass," but they were charged with divers crimes, especially invading her Majesty's palace. Knox therefore convoked the Congregation to meet in Edinburgh on the day of trial, in the good old way of overawing justice. {232a} Of course we do not know to what lengths the dear brethren went in their pious indignation. The legal record mentions that they were armed with pistols, in the town and Court suburb; and it was no very unusual thing, later, for people to practise pistol shooting at each other even in their own Kirk of St. Giles's. {232b}

Still, pistols, if worn in the palace chapel have not a pacific air. The brethren are also charged with assaulting some of the Queen's domestic servants. {232c}

Archbishop Spottiswoode, son of one of the Knoxian Superintendents, says that the brethren "forced the gates, and that some of the worshippers were taken and carried to prison. . . . " {232d} Knox admits in his "History" that "some of the brethren burst in" to the chapel. In his letter to stir up the godly, he says that the brethren "passed" (in), "and that in most quiet manner."

On receiving Knox's summons the Congregation prepared its levies in every town and province. {233a} The Privy Council received a copy of Knox's circular, and concluded that it "imported treason."

To ourselves it does seem that for a preacher to call levies out of every town and province, to meet in the capital on a day when a trial was to be held, is a thing that no Government can tolerate. The administration of justice is impossible in the circumstances. But it was the usual course in Scotland, and any member of the Privy Council might, at any time, find it desirable to call a similar convocation of his allies. Mary herself, fretted by the perfidies of Elizabeth, had just been consoled by that symbolic jewel, a diamond shaped like a rock, and by promises in which she fondly trusted when she at last sought an asylum in England, and found a prison. For two months she had often been in deep melancholy, weeping for no known cause, and she was afflicted by the "pain in her side" which ever haunted her (December 13-21). {233b}

Accused by the Master of Maxwell of unbecoming conduct, Knox said that such things had been done before, and he had the warrant "of God, speaking plainly in his Word." The Master (later Lord Herries), not taking this view of the case, was never friendly with Knox again; the Reformer added this comment as late as December 1571. {233c}

Lethington and Moray, like Maxwell, remonstrated vainly with our Reformer. Randolph (December 21) reports that the Lords assembled "to take order with Knox and his faction, who intended by a mutinous assembly made by his letter before, to have rescued two of their brethren from course of law. . . . " {234a} Knox was accompanied to Holyrood by a force of brethren who crowded "the inner close and all the stairs, even to the chamber door where the Queen and Council sat." {234b} Probably these "slashing communicants" had their effect on the minds of the councillors. Not till after Riccio's murder was Mary permitted to have a strong guard.

According to Knox, Mary laughed a horse laugh when he entered, saying, "Yon man gart me greit, and grat never tear himself. I will see gif I can gar him greit." Her Scots, textually reported, was certainly idiomatic.

Knox acknowledged his letter to the Congregation, and Lethington suggested that he might apologise. Ruthven said that Knox made convocation of people daily to hear him preach; what harm was there in his letter merely calling people to convocation. This was characteristic pettifogging. Knox said that he convened the people to meet on the day of trial according to the order "that the brethren has appointed . . . at the commandment of the general Kirk of the Realm."

Mary seems, strangely enough, to have thought that this was a valid reply. Perhaps it was, and the Kirk's action in that sense, directed against the State, finally enabled Cromwell to conquer the Kirk-ridden country. Mary appears to have admitted the Kirk's imperium in imperio, for she diverted the discussion from the momentous point really at issue--the right of the Kirk to call up an armed multitude to thwart justice. She now fell on Knox's employment of the word "cruelty." He instantly started on a harangue about "pestilent Papists," when the Queen once more introduced a personal question; he had caused her to weep, and he recounted all their interview after he attacked her marriage from the pulpit.

He was allowed to go home--it might not have been safe to arrest him, and the Lords, unanimously, voted that he had done no offence. They repeated their votes in the Queen's presence, and thus a precedent for "mutinous convocation" by Kirkmen was established, till James VI. took order in 1596. We have no full narrative of this affair except that of Knox. It is to be guessed that the nobles wished to maintain the old habit of mutinous convocation which, probably, saved the life of Lethington, and helped to secure Bothwell's acquittal from the guilt of Darnley's murder. Perhaps, too, the brethren who filled the whole inner Court and overflowed up the stairs of the palace, may have had their influence.

This was a notable triumph of our Reformer, and of the Kirk; to which, on his showing, the Queen contributed, by feebly wandering from the real point at issue. She was no dialectician. Knox's conduct was, of course, approved of and sanctioned by the General Assembly. {235} He had, in his circular, averred that Cranstoun and Armstrong were summoned "that a door may be opened to execute cruelty upon a greater multitude." To put it mildly, the General Assembly sanctioned contempt of Court. Unluckily for Scotland contempt of Court was, and long remained, universal, the country being desperately lawless, and reeking with blood shed in public and private quarrels. When a Prophet followed the secular example of summoning crowds to overawe justice, the secular sinners had warrant for thwarting the course of law.

As to the brethren and the idolaters who caused these troubles, we know not what befell them. The penalty, both for the attendants at Mass and for the disturbers thereof, should have been death! The dear brethren, if they attacked the Queen's servants, came under the Proclamation of October 1561; so did the Catholics, for they "openly made alteration and innovation of the state of religion. . . . " They ought "to be punished to the death with all rigour." Three were outlawed, and their sureties "unlawed." Twenty-one others were probably not hanged; the records are lost. For the same reason we know not what became of the brethren Armstrong, Cranstoun, and George Rynd, summoned with the other malefactors for November 13. {236}


Andrew Lang

Sorry, no summary available yet.